Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.
Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.
Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.
It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:
- Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
- Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
- Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
- Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.
Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
Like many other families, you may use formula instead of breast milk as a safe and healthy alternative to feed your infant. But, if you use a powdered form that you mix with water your child may be taking in more fluoride than they require.
Fluoride is a natural chemical that can strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. After decades of study it's also been shown to pose no serious health risks. Because of fluoride's benefits and safety, many water utilities add tiny amounts to their drinking water supply.
But it can have one side effect called enamel fluorosis. If a child ingests too much fluoride during early development it can cause discoloring mottled spots or streaking in permanent teeth. Although it doesn't affect their health, the teeth can be unattractive and require cosmetic attention.
That's why it's best to keep fluoride consumption to a healthy minimum for children. That, however, is often easier said than done, since we can encounter hidden fluoride in a variety of places. Besides hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water, you may find fluoride in prepared juices and other beverages, bottled water or in foods processed with fluoridated water. There are no labeling requirements for fluoride, so you'll have to research to find out if a product contains fluoride.
There are, however, some things you can do to control your child's fluoride intake. First, know as much as you can about known sources your child may encounter like your water supply. You can find out if your utility adds fluoride and by how much by contacting them or visiting My Water's Fluoride online at https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/.
If you use fluoride toothpaste apply only a “smear” on the end of the brush for children under two and a pea-sized amount for older children. If you have fluoridated drinking water, consider breastfeeding your infant, use ready-to-feed formula or mix powdered formula with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
And, do feel free to discuss your concerns with us during your child's regular checkup. We'll help you adjust their diet, water intake and hygiene habits to be sure they're receiving the right amount they need for developing strong teeth — and no more.
If you would like more information on appropriate fluoride levels for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Watching your newborn develop into a toddler, then an elementary schooler, a teenager, and finally an adult is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences there is. Throughout the years, you’ll note the passing of many physical milestones — including changes that involve the coming and going of primary and permanent teeth. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about children’s dental development.
When will I see my baby’s first tooth come in?
The two lower front teeth usually erupt (emerge from the gums) together, between the ages of 6 and 10 months. But your baby’s teeth may come earlier or later. Some babies are even born with teeth! You will know the first tooth is about to come in if you see signs of teething, such as irritability and a lot of drooling. The last of the 20 baby teeth to come in are the 2-year molars, so named for the age at which they erupt.
When do kids start to lose their baby teeth?
Baby teeth are generally lost in the same order in which they appeared, starting with the lower front teeth around age 6. Children will continue to lose their primary teeth until around age 12.
What makes baby teeth fall out?
Pressure from the emerging permanent tooth below the gum will cause the roots of the baby tooth to break down or “resorb” little by little. As more of the root structure disappears, the primary tooth loses its anchorage in the jawbone and falls out.
When will I know if my child needs braces?
Bite problems (malocclusions) usually become apparent when a child has a mixture of primary and permanent teeth, around age 6-8. Certain malocclusions are easier to treat while a child’s jaw is still growing, before puberty is reached. Using appliances designed for this purpose, orthodontists can actually influence the growth and development of a child’s jaw — to make more room for crowded teeth, for example. We can discuss interceptive orthodontics more fully with you at your child’s next appointment.
When do wisdom teeth come in and why do they cause problems?
Wisdom teeth (also called third molars) usually come in between the ages of 17 and 25. By that time, there may not be enough room in the jaw to accommodate them — or they may be positioned to come in at an angle instead of vertically. Either of these situations can cause them to push against the roots of a neighboring tooth and become trapped beneath the gum, which is known as impaction. An impacted wisdom tooth may lead to an infection or damage to adjacent healthy teeth. That it is why it is important for developing wisdom teeth to be monitored regularly at the dental office.
If you have additional questions about your child’s dental development, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Losing a Baby Tooth” and “The Importance of Baby Teeth.”
When it comes to your child oral health, establishing a good oral care routine and regular dental examinations and cleanings early on create good habits which will benefit your children for the rest of their lives. Fluoride treatments are an added layer of protection to help keep your child’s teeth healthy. Find out more about fluoride treatments and if they can help your child with Dr. Marylene Vitiello at Tooth Fairy World with locations in the Hyde Park and Lincoln Park neighborhoods of Chicago, IL.
What is a fluoride treatment?
The mineral fluoride is found in the enamel of your teeth. A fluoride treatment applies fluoride onto the teeth, usually with a small brush. The process only takes a few minutes and is a painless experience. The fluoride substance hardens onto the teeth, creating a thin layer on their surfaces. The treatment usually has a pleasant flavor to ensure a smooth treatment for your child.
Can a fluoride treatment help my child?
Your pediatric dentist may recommend a fluoride treatment from the time your children get their first teeth. While anyone can benefit from a fluoride treatment, they are popular in children to strengthen their still-developing teeth and ensure that their teeth remain healthy. Many communities add fluoride to their water supply, creating fluorinated tap water which can help the teeth. While too much fluoride can cause adverse reactions in the teeth, the right amount is beneficial to preventing or even reversing cavities. Additionally, your child should also have an excellent at-home oral care routine. Every patient, regardless of age, should brush at least twice a day and floss at least once. A healthy diet high in calcium helps strengthen the teeth from the inside out. Regular dental examinations and cleanings every six months remove any plaque or tartar from your child’s teeth, stopping tooth decay in its tracks and preventing cavities.
Have you started orthodontic treatment recently? Are you having a little trouble getting used to your braces? If so, you are not alone: Everybody goes through an adjustment period during which they momentarily wonder if they’ll really ever get used to this. Don’t worry — you will! And we’ve never heard anyone say, on the day their braces come off and their new smile is revealed, that they aren’t glad they went the distance. Just ask Houston Rockets all-star center Dwight Howard, who discussed his own orthodontic treatment in a recent interview.
“I’m sure I was no different than anyone else who has ever had braces,” he told Mediaplanet. “At first I hated them so much… That changed once I got used to them and I actually grew to love them.” What’s Howard’s advice? “Do exactly what your orthodontist says and know that the outcome is well worth it in the end.” We couldn’t agree more! Here are some tips for wearing braces comfortably:
- Hard & Chewy Foods: If you love fresh fruits and vegetables, that’s great; there’s no reason to give them up, just the really hard ones. You don’t want to bite into an apple or carrot or any other hard foods like bagels and pizza that have any “size” to them. Small pieces may be ok as long as they can’t bend your wires. Chewy, sticky candy should really be avoided completely. Same with soda, sports drinks and so-called energy drinks because they contain acids that promote tooth decay and can cause a lot of damage around the braces.
- Effective Oral Hygiene: Keeping your teeth clean is more important than ever, but also more challenging than ever. It’s easy for food to get stuck under wires and around brackets, but failing to remove it can cause tooth decay, gum irritation and soreness. Therefore, the cleaner your teeth and your braces are, the healthier you will be. Use interdental cleaning brushes and/or a floss-threader to get behind your wires. A mouthrinse can also help strengthen teeth and keep bacteria in check. If you have any questions about how to clean between your teeth, please ask for a demonstration at your next visit.
- Pain Relief: Some soreness at the beginning of orthodontic treatment is normal. To relieve it, you can use an over-the-counter pain reliever and/or a warm washcloth or heating pad placed on the outside of the jaw. If brackets or wires are rubbing against the inside of your cheeks or lips, try applying wax to these areas of your braces. If this does not offer enough relief, we may be able to trim the end of a poking wire. Call us if you need help with this.
Our goal is to make your orthodontic treatment as comfortable as possible on the way to achieving your all-star smile. If you have questions about adjusting to braces, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
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